Karla Mallette (University of Michigan) - “Petrarch at Sea: Late Style in the Canzoniere”
Thursday September 26, 2013 at 4:30pm in Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries
Today, we remember Petrarch mainly for the sublime vernacular lyrics of the Canzoniere. Yet he himself thought little of his Italian poems, which he referred to scornfully as nugae – “trifles.” For Petrarch, Latin acted as counterweight to the instability and fragility of human life. And it was the only antidote for the linguistic fluidity that characterized northern Italy during his life. This talk studies Petrarch’s work (in particular, the recurrent image of the ship at sea in the Canzoniere) and life (in particular, his years in Venice) in order to think about a cluster of problems at the heart of his vernacular poetics: questions of language, especially the antinomy of vernacular and cosmopolitan language; and Petrarch’s persistent return – even late in his life – to the vernacular lyrics he disparaged.
Karla Mallette is author of European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean: Toward a New Philology and a Counter-Orientalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010) and The Kingdom of Sicily, 1100-1250: A Literary History (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), and co-editor with Suzanne Akbari of A Sea of Languages: Rethinking the Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History (University of Toronto Press, 2013). Currently, she is at work on a project tentatively titled Lives of the Great Languages, on the cosmopolitan languages of the pre-modern Mediterranean. She is Professor of Italian and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan.